What’s The Deal with Doulas?

Pregnancy | | Natasha Weiss
6 min read

Pregnancy comes with a whole world of questions, especially when figuring out what kind of birth you may want. Part of setting the tone for your birth is choosing who will be in the room. More and more people these days are choosing to hire a doula to support them during this tender time.

What is a Doula?

Although the job is far from simple, the most succinct definition of a doula is someone who supports people through life’s biggest transitions. Doulas hold space. While “holding space” feels like a very esoteric term, it is a palpable experience of someone holding the energetic container, no matter what is unfolding. During labor, doulas hold space by staying grounded, alert, and present, through the twists, turns, and unknowns that accompany birth. 

The term doula remains broad because the roles and responsibilities of one vary greatly. 

What Does a Birth Doula Do?

The most common question I get when I tell people what I do, is “So you’re like a midwife right?” Wrong. Midwives are medical professionals, doulas are not. Doulas provide educational, emotional, physical, and possibly spiritual support during pregnancy, labor, birth, and beyond. 

You may be wondering what that looks like practically.

Doulas will meet with their clients prenatally, usually two to three times to establish a relationship with them, provide childbirth education, help them discuss their birth preferences, as well as a postpartum plan. 

Birth is unpredictable, and doulas help you to ride the waves that come with it. During the labor process, they can pull from their ‘magic bag of tricks’- both real and metaphorical. Many use essential oils for aromatherapy and a long traditional Mexican fabric called a rebozo to help relax pelvic muscles.

They help their clients walk around and find new positions, assist them in hydrotherapy like the shower, use hands-on counter pressure techniques to ease contractions, utilize massage and acupressure, guide their breathing, and provide encouragement and affirmations. They also keep tabs on basic things that can get overlooked in the intensity of labor, like that the birthing person is hydrated and peeing, and eating if they are able and want to. Doulas make sure the partner or any family members in the room are getting their basic needs met like food, water, rest, and emotional support.

While nurses, OB/Gyns, and even midwives, may be busy attending to other patients or paperwork, doulas provide continuous care throughout the birth process. Ensuring clients have a familiar, trustworthy person by their side.

Doulas do not replace a partner or birth companion. It’s incredible when doulas leave space for the birthing person and partner (if there is one) to be present with each other, and for the medical professionals to do their jobs effectively. All while maintaining an underlying current of fluidity and calmness.

Speaking of Bag of Tricks

Many doulas come with a wide skill set and a background in other fields that help them in their doula work. They may choose to include these in their offerings with services like massage therapy, Reiki, lactation consulting, acupuncture, chiropractic care, prenatal Yoga, and herbalism. 

Doulas Make a Difference

With the frightening maternal mortality rate in the United States and other countries, it is crucial to examine what can help prevent these deaths, and make for an overall healthier culture around birth. Doulas are a critical tool in this movement. Having a doula present decreases your risk of a Cesarean by 25%, gives a 10% decrease in the use of pain-relieving medications, and makes for shorter labor by 41 minutes on average.

Why is This?

Doulas provide a level of continuous comfort in the hospital that helps to keep clients calm. This feeling of safety aids in the secretion of oxytocin, which is what causes uterine contractions in labor. 

While most healthcare professionals have their patient’s best interests at heart, there is a disturbing amount of trauma that occurs during birth. This could be from medical providers not listening to their clients, from administering medications or procedures without their informed consent, or from needing to meet the requirements and limitations of being in a large hospital system. Doulas support clients to advocate for themselves so that they can have autonomy during their birth – no matter where it happens.

A Full Spectrum Lens

Doulas aren’t just for people who are giving birth.

There are so many intense life transitions and events that people can benefit from having continuous, professional support from someone who is trained to do just that. 

In my practice, I identify as a full spectrum doula. This means that I support people throughout the reproductive and life cycle, no matter what that looks like.

A full-spectrum doula supports people no matter the outcome of pregnancy. This means whether they have an abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or live birth, their doula is there by their side to support them without judgment. 

Postpartum doulas support people through the often neglected fourth trimester. People need extra support after birth, and people who experience miscarriage or stillbirth also need the support of a doula while they are healing. Postpartum doulas help support the birthing person in whatever way they need. This may mean doing small chores around the house, meal prepping, holding the baby while they rest or take a shower, helping with nursing and latching, or just sitting with them while they process their experience. 

Within the full spectrum lens, there are also death doulas. This is just what it sounds like. Doulas who help support people who are nearing the end of their lives, and their families. They may help with funeral planning and body preparation, understanding important documents, and just being present during this painful process.

Every period of deep transformation deserves proper support- that’s the doula’s job.

Different Flavors of Doulas

There are many driving forces that push people into becoming a doula. Some go in after their own personal experience with birth, others just say it’s a calling. Thanks to this, doulas come from all different backgrounds, and each one has their own unique style. 

Some have the grandmother vibe. There are punk doulas covered in tattoos. Some will make you crack up, while others provide a soft and reassuring presence. There are doulas that focus on specific communities like queer people, surrogacy, marginalized communities, and incarcerated people. What they all have in common is devotion and a whole lot of love. 

There’s a doula for everyone!

Everyone Deserves a Doula

If you are curious about becoming a doula, or are wondering how you can afford one for your own birth, there is a growing number of volunteer programs where newer doulas can gain valuable experience, and provide support to those who may not have the resources to hire one.

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